Sicilian food is probably the best in the world. Just look at how many fatties there are in Sicily if you don’t believe me! (I should probably stop making fun of fatties these days; after ten years in Sicily, I am one of them.)
SICILIAN FOOD: THE ORIGINAL FUSION CUISINE
Read this post to get an overview of the different influences on Sicilian cuisine. It will give you the best possible inspiration on how to experience each of the cultures that influenced modern Sicily, through the foods they brought to the island.
The History of Sicilian Cuisine in Thirteen Invasions
ALLERGIES AND SPECIAL DIETS
Do you have celiac disease (gluten allergy) or other food allergies? Sicily is probably the best place in the world to come on holiday.
- There are gluten-free bakeries, gluten-free pizzerias and gluten-free supermarkets.
- By law, a restaurant advertising “gluten Free” has to have an entirely separate kitchen where gluten never crosses the threshold, and the gluten-free bakeries do impose this rule.
- If your allergy is not this severe, though, the vast majority of restaurants do have packs of gluten-free pasta and often gluten-free bread as well: you just have to ask. They are very careful not to cross-contaminate using the same spoon.
Sicilians are very accomodating of – and knowledgeable about – other allergies and dietary restrictions, too. Sometimes it feels as if everyone in Sicily has a diabetic relative!
- The level of public understanding of dietary needs for diabetics is remarkable.
- Allergies are taken very seriously, too. I always walk into restaurants and present the waiter with my long and extremely challenging list of food allergies, and get an a la carte meal created just for me. I have only once, ever, found a restaurant that was not willing to modify its menu. If you need to know the complete list of ingredients you just have to ask. If it’s baked on the premises the cook will appear, and if it’s ready-made they will almost always show you the printed ingredients.
FRUIT AND VEGETABLE SEASONS
You will need to know what is in season in the month you visit. May is the best month of all, but there’s something lovely every month.
VISIT CASTELBUONO, CENTRE OF THE SLOW FOOD MOVEMENT
Castelbuono is Foodie Central in Sicily. If you are a foodie and want to try a lot of unusual foods, you need to base yourself in this gorgeous Medieval town full of organic sausage-makers, harvesters of manna, producers of exceptional wines, stirrers of mandarin sorbet, carvers of artwork from fruit, and makers of the best panettone in the world.
Castelbuono the Foodies paradise in Sicily
SICILIAN STREET FOOD
Sicilians eat a lot of street foods made from offal. The most famous of all is the spleen sandwich (pane ca meusa in Sicilian or, for cowards like me, it’s called panino con la milza in Italian). Legend has it that the Jews, who are forbidden from eating offal by the laws of kosher, gave it away to the poor of Palermo, who became creative in preparing it tastily. Nowadays, some of the street offal chefs of Palermo have become celebrities.
The Celebrity Chefs of Palermo – They’re Offal!
Palermo bucket list: 9 street foods you must try [external link to Secret Sicily website]
NUTS AND SEEDS
Nuts and seeds are a classic Sicilian steeet snack sold at religious festivals and some other events. They come in all varieties – raw, roasted or coated in crispy sugary stuff. The market stalls that sell them are works of art.
The Spanish invaders at the time of the Inquisition brought chocolate to Sicily, along with the Aztec recipe that everyone was using back then. In Sicily, you do NOT mess with a recipe you learned from your grandma or father, so in the beautiful Spanish Baroque town of Modica, direct descendants of those first chocolate-making families are still making bars of organic, raw chocolate using that old Aztec recipe.
Aztec chocolate is still made in Modica, Sicily – and it’s the best I’ve ever eaten
MANNA – A BIBLICAL FOOD YOU THOUGHT WAS JUST MADE UP
The only place in the world you can eat the Biblical food manna is the Sicilian town of Castelbuono, where people harvest this tree sap when it dries into sticks. Manna from heaven saved the Israelites in the desert – Manna from Castelbuono may be one of the highlights of your holiday in Sicily!
Manna from Heaven? Or from Sicily?
SEA FOOD AND SNAILS
Sicilians make tasty meals out of snails, sea urchins, octopus, and quite a few other things not regarded as food in other parts of the world. Give them a go while in Sicily!
A THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD FRUIT GARDEN
The Garden of the Kolymbetra lies inside the archaeological site of the valley of the Temples that was once the ancient Greek city of Akragas (Agrigento). The Greeks originally built it as a reflecting pool with ornamental fish and swans, but the Moors filled it with every type of citrus tree and all the other fruits and vegetables grown and eaten in Sicily. You can tour the lush garden and buy samples of fruit and veg to eat, including jars of delicious citrus jam.
MARZIPAN WORKS OF ART
Marzipan, or martorana, is a delicious food that’s also a form of art in Sicily. For i Morti (The day of the dead at Hallowe’en) they make beautiful marzipan fruits and other foods and at Easter they make adorable marzipan lambs.
You can explore the ancient Phoenician sea-salt farm at the Infersa salt works in Marsala. You can climb up inside a windmill or even spend a day working there yourself. The windmills among sparkling white hills made of salt offer amazing photo opportunities – like the sunset below.
How do you get Edible Salt out of the Sea?
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Something to get you in a Sicilian mood
Veronica Di Grigoli’s new comedy novel
AN ENGLISH WOMAN TAKES ON PARENTHOOD, THE MAFIA AND A SICILIAN MOTHER-IN-LAW, ALL AT ONCE
Buy it on Amazon.com
Buy it on Amazon.co.uk
It’s available in paperback and Kindle on all Amazon websites worldwide
3 Comments Add yours
Ciao! I really enjoy this blog, thank you for writing it! Are there any specific Sicilian coffee, wine, booze, or food cultures (other than the great suggestions above – I hope to have a spleen sandwich or two) not to be missed? For example, is there a coffee/wine/pastry/liquor/etc. that is popular in Sicily but not elsewhere in Italy? I don’t want to miss out on any lesser known gems. I looked through the pages above, but was curious if you had any other tips. We’ll be there for about 10 days in mid-to-late-May, so any other tips about what may be in season, etc. would be greatly appreciated. Grazie!
I could write another blog post!
Make sure you try pistachio, cinnamon and almond liqueurs, and hazelnut if you can find it (it’s rarer). There are some fruit ones also unique to Sicily but they taste a bit like medicine!
The pastries can’t be listed, but walk into every bar and bakery and eat as many different things as you can possibly manage. Look for the home made ice cream sorbets as well, the word “artigianale” isn’t like the nonsense marketing word artisanal in England, it really means they made it in the café using fresh fruit.
Don’t forget to enter a friggitoria and try an arancina and panelle (they only have those near Palermo.) And don’t order two many, one will make you feel stuffed!
Grazie mille! We’ll do our best!